Film

The Oscars: Takin’ it back to 77′

25 February 2016

A month ago, the 2015 Oscars promised to be the year a group of rich, overwhelmingly Caucasian men with the average age of 62 embraced the ‘real’ world.

Surely, awards­friendly fare such as Carol, The Danish Girl and the surreptitious feminist tales of Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens would see 2015 looked back upon as the year Hollywood finally overcame its Caucasian, male heteronormative bias.

But no. The Academy’s long­documented problem with gender and race has continued into 2016. Last year’s #Oscarssowhite meme has been getting a solid workout since the 20 acting nominees were announced, barely a freckle of melatonin amongst them.

The 94 per cent white, 76 per cent male Academy voters are naturally drawn to films that feature smart white people doing smart white people things like Cold War diplomacy (Bridge of Spies), North American colonisation (The Revenant) or Wall St financial dealings (The Big Short) over a game­changing dramedy about multiracial transgender sex workers like Tangerine.

African ­American Academy president Cheryl Boon­Isaacs’ radical overhaul of membership and voting rules has alienated many in the Academy, outlining a four- year plan to double female and minority membership while limiting membership terms to 10­year stints. Her response sets the scene for an unmissable Chris Rock ­hosted ceremony.

Look over the nominees and one thing becomes clear: 2015 is looking more and more like 1977 ­ the year a dialogue­ heavy thriller about plucky investigative journalists was a Best Picture favourite (All the President’s Men/Spotlight), a savage exposé of a national institution enraged and entertained (Network/The Big Short), Sylvester Stallone was nominated for playing Rocky Balboa (Rocky/Creed), a franchise ­booting Star Wars film set box office records and Hollywood made a well­ overdue leap by nominating a woman for Best Director.

In 2015, women took on urban gun violence (Chi­Raq), attacked a futuristic totalitarian state (Mad Max: Fury Road), shared illicit love (Carol), won the vote (Suffragette) and saved the galaxy (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Merchandisers may be taking longer to catch on, but females are leaping to the top of the marquee and into the heart of the blockbuster.

Despite this, leading the pack with twelve nominations is The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio fights a bear, sleeps inside a horse carcass and doesn’t even care that he has frozen snot in his beard. It’s the sort of overtly masculine, Man vs. Wild performance that the Academy’s ‘steak­eaters’ can easily deem worthy. It’s also one of the biggest ripostes to anyone who hoped 2015 might be the year the feminine triumphed. Instead, The Revenant sees its only two female characters raped and murdered.

A notable omission from the Best Picture nominees is Carol ­ a finely wrought tale of repressed love which won widespread acclaim. Similarly, The Danish Girl earned praise for its acting but was savaged by many LGBTQI+ viewers for its superficial take on womanhood and unwillingness to cast a transgender actor in Eddie Redmayne’s role – the recipient of one of the first ever surgical procedures for gender reassignment.

Other surprises (no Best Director for The Martian’s Ridley Scott or Carol’s Todd Haynes?) were the nods for Room and Ex Machina. The former is a gut- wrenching story about a mother introducing her five­-year-­old son to the world after years of imprisonment in an urban bunker, the latter a tale of a Zuckerberg ­like tycoon developing the world’s first Turing Test­acing AI.

Room’s Brie Larsen is the favourite to beat University of Melbourne dropout Blanchett to Best Actress, and the staggeringly endearing nine year­old Jacob Tremblay was unlucky not to score a supporting actor nomination.

Ex Machina is unlikely to win for its nominations in visual effects and original screenplay, but its appearance is a boon to the low budget indie and marks director Alex Garland’s next film, 2017’s femme-­centric sci­fi Annihilation, as one to watch.

The year’s biggest surprise, however, has come in the form of a $150 million blockbuster sequel to a 1985 film chiefly known for its haircuts. Mad Max may have started in the University of Melbourne car park, but it could reach its zenith with director George Miller (also the creator of Happy Feet and Babe) tipped to accept a ‘lifetime achievement award’ in the form of a Best Director Oscar.

Speaking of animated classics, it would be a huge upset were Inside Out not to win Best Animated Feature, though Charlie Kaufman’s R­rated stop­motion animation Anomalisa is one worth investigating.

Hidden way down the bottom of the nominees is Don Hertzfeldt’s animated short film World of Tomorrow, a 16­minute life­affirming gem. If you’re ever feeling abandoned or at a loss, time spent in Hertzfeldt’s world is a poignant reminder of the power of cinema and the transformative vision of a human being.

The Academy’s changes are a necessary corrective to enable Hollywood to continue to sell the idea that it reflects the dreams of an increasingly diverse America.

Next year’s Oscars could well feature the slave­revolt drama The Birth of a Nation, which recently became the biggest ever sale of a film from the Sundance Film Festival, where many Oscar winners have first screened. 2015 may not be ‘the year everything changed’, but it could come to be seen as the year ‘everything began to change’.

Farrago Predicts

Best Picture: The Revenant

Best Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Actress: Brie Larsen, Room

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara, Carol

Best Animated Feature Film: Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul (Hungary)

Best Documentary: Amy

Best Cinematography: The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup and Hair: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design: The Revenant

Best Editing: Hank Corwin, The Big Short

Best Adapted Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy, Carol

Best Original Screenplay: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Best Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Best Song: ‘Earned It’ by The Weeknd, Fifty Shades of Grey


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